Kentucky's Chicken Curse Now Nine Straight

Kentucky's band elected to go with a Halloween theme early this year. Good choice; it was appropriate for a game that was full of tricks and treats for both teams. South Carolina ended up with the best treat of the day, a 24-17 winning score, courtesy of a trick pass play from Stephen Garcia to Weslye Saunders for the winning score.

No one dared go to sleep watching this game, you might miss something. The South Carolina offense was horrible in the first half, but put 14 points on the board thanks to Captain Munnerlyn.

Starting quarterback Chris Smelley was intercepted when Trevard Lindley ripped the ball out of Kenny McKinley's hands and ran it 29 yards into the end zone for a touchdown and a 7-0 Kentucky lead. Ecstatic Wildcat fans had less than a minute to celebrate, because Munnerlyn returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards to the Kentucky 16 before being caught by the kicker. One play and 20 seconds after the Kentucky score, Smelley hit McKinley in the end zone and the score was tied before you could pay the vendor for your ice cold Coca-Cola.

Keeping with the Halloween theme, Munnerlyn was scary this day – scary good and scary bad. He fumbled and recovered his own fumble on the 30 yard line on one kickoff. He had to jump out of the way of a punt he elected not to return, and fair caught another close to his own end zone. Addison Williams somewhat redeemed his costly punt error at Vanderbilt when he jumped on a Kentucky punt after Munnerlyn touched it but did not field it.

Senior wide receiver McKinley also had a day of tricks and treats. He was on the bad, then the good end of both of the first scoring plays – and then had both good and bad occur again - on the same play. McKinley broke Sterling Sharpe's South Carolina record with his 170th career reception, but immediately coughed up the ball, which was pounced on by Kentucky's Marcus McClinton. Again, the Wildcats had a chance to grab momentum, but Ryan Tydlacka's 29-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Jordin Lindsey, and who else but Captain Munnerlyn returned it 81 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 Carolina lead.

"The kickoff return and the blocked field goal were two huge plays they made and we didn't. In my opinion, if they don't make those plays, the score is different, but it wasn't," Kentucky Head Coach Rich Brooks said.

McKinley ended up as the leading receiver for the day, catching a team-high seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, but his lead is more impressive in the record books. He extended his school records for career catches to 173 and consecutive games with a catch to 37. He remains in third place on the career yardage chart, but only trails second place Zola Davis by 9 yards. He needs another 153 yards to surpass Sharpe's all-time yardage record.

Referencing the record setting play that he then fumbled, he said, "I got to have better ball control, and I know my coach is going to work on that with me this week. Hopefully it won't happen any more this season."

Normally money-in-the-bank kicker Ryan Succop missed a career-high four field goals. He had suffered an abdominal strain and was held out of practice until Thursday. Special teams coach Ray Rychleski said it wasn't a factor physically with Succop, but it probably was mentally, and said he should have started Spencer Lanning at place-kicker because of Succop's missing practice. Succop said, "That was certainly a tough game for me, but the team certainly bailed me out tonight, and the defense really came through, so fortunately we came out of here with a win. It wasn't bad snaps, it wasn't bad holds. The snaps and hold were good. I just missed."

The worst day was reserved for Chris Smelley, however. He was intercepted twice, and fumbled at midfield. Kentucky took the ball after the fumble and drove it to pay dirt, tying the score again on a 2 yard run by Tony Dixon. Kentucky's Ryan Tydlacka booted a 51-yard field goal with just four seconds left in the half to give the Wildcats a 17-14 halftime lead.

Smelley continued to struggle to hit his receivers in the third quarter and Spurrier had seen enough. A week after Chris Smelley was named SC Player of the Week for his offensive performance against Ole Miss, he was benched after two and two thirds quarters of ineffective play for redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia.

It may be the last we see of him for awhile, as Garcia made the most of his opportunity, and was rewarded after the game with a game ball by Spurrier and an announcement that Garcia would start next week against defending national champion LSU.

At the end of the day, despite the ups and downs by Munnerlyn and McKinley, and mostly downs for Smelley and Succop, the team won. The defense again came up big, limiting the Wildcats to one third down conversion on the day in 16 attempts. "We made eight of seventeen third downs and they were one of sixteen. So I guess that's where the ball game was won right there," Spurrier said.

Steve Spurrier ran his record to 16-0 against the Wildcats, the longest by any team against a single coach other than two losing streaks against Penn State's Joe Paterno. He also won his 100th SEC victory, and now trails Georgia legend Vince Dooley by only five SEC wins for third place all-time, and trails Johnny Vaught by six for second place. Bear Bryant holds the all-time mark at 159. Spurrier moved into a tie for eighth place on USC's all-time wins list with 26 wins, tying him with Sol Metzger. He trails Warren Giese by two for seventh place on the list. Spurrier has stated that one of his goals is to retire as USC's all-time winningest coach. South Carolina (5-2, 2-2) won its ninth consecutive meeting against Kentucky (4-2, 0-2).

The talk of the town this next week is guaranteed to be Garcia. Given the opportunity to play today, he responded by marching the team down the field for a field goal attempt on his first two drives. Succop missed his third field goal attempt of the day on the first drive, but made a 42 yard attempt to tie the game on the second drive with 11:58 left in the game.

Garcia and the offense converted time and again on four drives into Kentucky territory on third downs. The decisive play of the game was one Spurrier borrowed from LSU that they used in the national championship game against Ohio State. Splitting an offensive lineman out wide and putting tight end Weslye Saunders, who Spurrier said looks like a lineman in tight, Garcia hit a wide open Saunders in the end zone for the winning score. They call the play "Cajun." Garcia completed 10 of 14 passes for 169 yards on the day.

Spurrier remarked that he was surprised by how accurate Garcia's passes were, saying he had not been that accurate in practice this week. "I just said we have to watch Stephen throw, we have to see if he can hit something," Spurrier said. "Stephen I think surprised us all. He threw the balls where guys could catch it, he threw a very catchable pass, threw it in the openings of the defense. He was pretty good for his first meaningful playing time ever, and that was his first meaningful time out."

Jason Barnes complimented McKinley as a go-to receiver for the second game in a row, catching whatever Garcia threw him on the decisive drive. He finished with four catches for 88 yards.

Garcia said, "I'm looking forward to starting. I've been waiting awhile for it. My time's come, so hopefully I'll just make the most of it."

Barnes said, "We were waiting on Garcia to go in. He came out with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence. He was zinging them in there like he'd been doing it his whole life. That's what I like to see. That's what we needed on offense."

Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline got the ball back with an opportunity to tie the game, but an interception by Chris Culliver clinched it for the Gamecocks.

"Stephen came through for us and Jason Barnes made some big, big catches over and over for us," Spurrier said. "Jason got another game ball this week. We are a happy bunch of Gamecocks."

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